LOS ANGELES - Nearly one year ago, on March 19, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom imposed the state's "safer-at-home" order.
In the year since, with much of the state in the most restrictive reopening tier, the Golden State has experienced some 3.6 million confirmed cases of coronavirus, resulting in nearly 54,000 deaths.
Now, however, as new caseloads and hospitalizations fall, and as vaccination rates rise, the state is focused on reopening some of its long-shuttered industries.
On Friday, Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of California’s Department of Health and Human Services, sat down exclusively with FOX 11’s Elex Michaelson to break down the latest reopening efforts, vaccination strategy, and more in the continued fight against the pandemic.
REOPENING OUTDOOR STADIUM’S AND AMUSEMENT PARKS
Starting April 1, Californians outside of the state’s restrictive purple tier, will now be able to see outdoor stadiums, ballparks, and amusement parks begin to gradually reopen.
Under the guidelines, stadiums will be able to operate at 20% capacity in the red tier, 33% in the orange tier, and 67% in the least-restrictive yellow tier, those counties in which there are fewer than one new case per 100 thousand residents per day.
"I see this as an opportunity for us to basically wrap a bubble around a group of fans from the same household that go and get an outdoor experience of something that so many people have missed," Ghaly said of the forthcoming experience of attending a baseball game in California. "They’ll sit in seats pretty far away from others, they’ll be asked to keep their masks on, they’ll be helped in and out of the stadium, concessions will be very different than normal… they’ll be a lot of controls on how fans come in and out, and I think still, many people will get the joy of something they’ve missed for quite some time."
Amusement parks will see somewhat more restrictive capacity guidelines than stadiums, being able to operate at 15% in the red tier, 25% in the orange tier, and 35% in the yellow tier. Attendees of those amusement parks will be required to purchase tickets beforehand online, and, for now, must be residents of California.
GETTING CALIFORNIA’S STUDENTS BACK INTO THE CLASSROOM
Friday, a lot of movement on the push to get children back to in-person learning, nearly a year after many were sent home due to the pandemic.
Early in the day, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a $6.6 billion plan aimed at incentivizing K-2 schools in the state’s red tiers to reopen by April 1. With so many students away from the classroom for so long, some $4.6 billion of the package will go towards efforts to recoup lost learning via summer programs or an extended school year.
Hours after Newsom signed that package into law, United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing teachers in the nation’s second-largest school district, the LAUSD, voted 91% not to return to the classroom until their demands for a safe return were met. Those demands include LA County moving out of the purple tier, school staff being fully vaccinated, and safety conditions being met.
As that battle continues, Michaelson asked Ghaly if it is safe for students to return to the classroom.
"The overwhelming evidence shows with the protections that California not only has put in place, but insists on being in place, that we won’t let schools operate without them, that schools can operate in a fairly, very safe way," Ghaly said, highlighting that with mask-wearing, physical distancing, protections for staff, and other precautions in place, "transmission can be very, very low."
"Not only can they open," he continued, "but they should open."
Michaelson followed-up by asking how the differing stances of the legislature and the unions may impact the timetable for reopening.
"We believe we’re going to make some inroads," Ghaly said of the ongoing effort to get the groups on the same page. "It’s not going to be perfect, but little by little, and we’ve seen it throughout this pandemic, the more we show that things can be done safer and lower risk, the more likely people are going to do that, and I believe that’s going to also apply to schools and reopening, and getting kids back to something that frankly, not only have they missed, but they really, really need for a number of other broader health issues as well, but, with the focus on teacher and staff health first and foremost."
ENSURING EQUITABLE VACCINE DISTRIBUTION
Friday, California passed a major vaccination milestone, becoming the first state to distribute more than 10 million doses.
That achievement comes in a week when the state announced a new strategy to ensure that the state’s more vulnerable communities receive their fair share of doses.
The new plan will see some 40% of doses being allocated to the state’s poorest neighborhoods, some 8 million residents across 400 zip codes. Currently, that 25% of the state accounts for some 40% of the state’s total coronavirus cases but makes up just 17% of those who have been vaccinated.
"The communities that have burdened the greatest proportion of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are those in these zip codes that we’re targeting," Ghaly said. "When we can control transmission in communities and areas like those, we know that the whole state is going to be better off."
Beyond the vaccine allocation, Ghaly also stressed that the state will also be working with community-based partners to improve outreach, offer support to community-based organizations and clinics, and to provide access to, and protection of, vaccine appointments.
The Issue Is: with Elex Michaelson is California's only statewide political show. For showtimes and more information, go to TheIssueIsShow.com.